Is there anything sadder or more full of emotion than love that is not meant to be? Folklore and mythology is full of stories of doomed lovers, from the Greek myth of Hero and Leander to the Chinese classic of the Cowherd and the Weaver.
This weekend, two famously ill-fated romances come under the spotlight in A Tale Of Star-Crossed Lovers, which takes on William Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, as well as the story of Rama and Shinta from the Javanese retelling of the Indian epic The Ramayana.
Somewhat ironically, while it is based on pairs, who are torn apart, this production is born out of a union of two very different groups: local Butoh dance group Nyoba Kan and the Kuala Lumpur Shakespeare Players (KLSP).
A Tale Of Star-Crossed Lovers is on at the Black Box, Publika in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 9-10.
The show is directed by Nyoba Kan’s Lee Swee Keong, and is presented as part of the KL Butoh Fest in Kuala Lumpur this month.
It is not a conventional, chronological retelling. Rather, it purports to tell both tales through a “weave of movements, both graceful and grotesque”, combined with a soundscape.
Actor Lim Soon Heng compares it to Lee’s previous production, Richard III, which was shown at KLPac last year.
“I’d watched it, and I was blown away. And watching Lee’s version, you wouldn’t know the play’s story. But everything was just so lush and visually stunning,” says Lim.
“You’re just swept into this celebration of the senses, because he also had these singers and musicians set around the periphery of the performance area. It was all very sensual and sensuous.
“There was a stereophonic carnality to the sound. You don’t focus on the story, but you’re absorbed in the aesthetics of everything.”
The story of Romeo And Juliet will be performed by KLSP members Lim, Hana Nadira, Sandee Chew, Zul Zamir and Lim Kien Lee, who also serves as the show’s dramaturg. Interwoven throughout the show will be a Javanese dance by Indonesian dancers Cahyo Sandhidea and Selvia Arbella, illustrating the tale of Rama and Shinta. Both stories will complement, echo and contrast with each other.
So expect many of the familiar lines from Romeo And Juliet: text from the balcony scene will be used, for example, as well as from the fight scenes, the deaths, and when the pair first meet each other. How they will be used, however, will perhaps not be as expected: lines will be spoken by different characters, at times together.
“There was a chance to take the text, and see what else it could be. We looked at the lines, which we brought in either through exercises, or got inspired through our movements. There was time to understand what the text was about, but we were also open to what other relationship dynamics could happen with that text,” says actress Chew.
“One thing about Swee Keong is, English is not his first language. But sometimes when we explore the lines, he will see certain words that we English speakers tend to gloss over.”
“The sound of the voices almost become more like a soundscape than lines. The meaning of the words was secondary to the sound that is created,” says Lim.
The show is devised through physical and vocal exercises by the cast, a process which the cast expressed was a new experience for them.
“Working with people who do devised pieces, there’s usually a space in between, a time for percolating. Some days you come in, try something, and it doesn’t work. Other days, you get things from an exercise, it becomes a potential scene, and the director decides to take it further or to keep it an exercise,” reveals Chew.
This is the third time that KLSP has tackled the story of Romeo And Juliet, previous efforts being Shakespeare Demystified: Romeo And Juliet and Storytelling Shakespeare. This upcoming production, however, sees more focus on the “lovers” relationship … not necessarily just that of Romeo and Juliet.
One feature of this production’s approach is how it allows for viewers to develop an intimacy with the story, on a personal level.
“There is no definitive interpretation. We are all subjects. We all experience the world differently. We have our own baggage, our own history, so how we make sense of the world is different. So this kind of performance, it’s not didactic, telling you ‘Romeo is good’, or ‘Juliet is innocent’. It creates a space to participate, and it’s up to you to fill in the gaps,” concludes Lim.
A Tale of Star-Crossed Lovers will play at Black Box, MAPKL, Publika, Solaris Dutamas in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 9-10. Tickets are RM88 and can be purchased at Aku Cafe & Gallery, 8, Jln Panggong, KL. Contact: 012-362 2939. More info: www.nyobakan.com.my or www.klshakespeare.com.my.